Tune: “Mutt and Jeff”
Recorded: 7 November, 1954 in New York City, New York
- Baritone/Alto Sax- Boots Mussulli
- Piano- Ray Santisi
- Bass- Max Bennett
- Drums- Shelly Mann
Tune: “Lullaby In Rhythm”
Recorded: 14 June, 1954 in New York City, New York
- Alto Sax- Boots Mussulli
- Piano- Ray Santisi
- Bass- John Carter
- Drums- Peter Littman
In the mid-1950’s, Stan Kenton and Capitol Records teamed up to release a series of records that set out to showcase jazz musicians that were part of the new ‘contemporary’ school. Many of the jazz artists spotlighted were in fact alumni from Kenton’s groups and so not exactly “new”, but the cause and sentiment was admirable. They gave recording opportunities to people who may have remained buried in the reed section and never recorded on their own. Entitled ‘Kenton Presents Jazz’, ex-Kentonites like Frank Rosalino, Sal Salvador, Bob Cooper, and Bill Holman were able to display their wares and continue to build fan bases. One musician who had the opportunity to record with Capitol out of this partnership was saxophonist Boots Mussulli. It was one of the few times he ever appeared on records.
An East Coaster, Mussulli had toured with Kenton’s group for a bit before staying in the Boston, MA area. He recorded an album or two before moving strictly to teaching. On this record, he’s joined by other East Coast musicians that are probably unfamiliar to you, other than drummer Shelly Mann, another ex-Kentonite. The music is relaxed and has that ‘West Coast’ sound. It makes the case that the whole ‘West Coast Cool Jazz’ thing was less about geography and more an style of jazz. The record is made up of two recording sessions, one in June of 1954 and the other in November of the same year, with different bassists and drummers for each session. Shelly Manne was on the November date, which was recorded late at night.
Mussulli’s saxophone playing is strong, and one can hear the Charlie Parker influence on his playing. He’s got a quiet fire to his playing, yet at times he sounds like he’s just blowing for the sake of blowing. It’s an interesting album from a guy who rarely appeared on records at all under his own name. I included two tracks this time, one because the first one (“Mutt and Jeff”) has him playing both alto and baritone sax, which was pretty cool. The other reason is because “Lullaby In Rhythm” is one of my favorite jazz tunes, and despite the fidelity not being the best on this record, it swings. That intro is also interesting in that it sounds almost exactly like Sonny Rollin’s tune “Pent-up House” (another one my favorite jazz songs), which he didn’t write/record until 1956, two years after this was recorded. Could this have been Rollin’s inspiration???????
Apparently, this album didn’t fly off the shelves when it first came out, and subsequently wasn’t reissued. Nat Hentoff reviewed the record in Down Beat and wasn’t overly impressed; he gave it 2.5 stars. The music didn’t grab him. Listening to it 60-plus years later, the music is an interesting time capsule of small-group jazz circa 1954 that wasn’t fireworks and wasn’t by a big name. It’s just good music.
It’s plain, simple cover, with artwork to match. Mussulli is just floating in the center in black and white, with his sax proving the most interesting thing on here. Points were also taken as a result of that baggy suit. I understand they were moving out of the 1940’s, but mercy. The art director took the day off on this album.
The liner notes are informative and have the added insight of Mussulli himself. At one point, he flat-out says that he changes his style with the times, something that struck me as interesting. He had apparently sounded more like Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges during his Kenton days, but once Charlie Parker came on the scene, he completely changed up his sound and technique so as to sound like Bird. A lot of musicians, especially alto sax players, became Bird copycats with varying degrees of success. Most of them didn’t admit it, but here, in black and white, Mussulli does. Fascinating. In the same paragraph, he mentions the ‘new’ alto sax players that he was digging, circa 1954, such as Lee Konitz, Paul Desmond (!!!), Charlie Mariano, “a kid out there on the West Coast- Lennie Niehaus“. The notes give us the personnel, dates, and location of the recording, which was relatively uncommon in liner notes back then.
This album was originally released as a 10″ album as well as a 12″, and I assume the 10″ album came out first. I’m not sure what the year of release was. My record is the 12″ edition, with the mid-1950’s teal Capitol labels. Interestingly, it seems like Capitol Records were non-deep groove from the beginning, regardless of age. The only deep groove Capitol record I own is a copy pressed in Canada. I’ve googled it but didn’t find anything about it. The vinyl plays quietly and smoothly, with fidelity decreasing on the inside grooves. It’s in glorious mono sound, the sound of 1954!
The Place of Acquisition
Due to it’s lack of popularity, at least at the time of its release, this title is somewhat rare and hard to find in the wild. So when I stumbled upon it in the ‘New Arrivals’ of the jazz section of the local record store, I was floored. I knew about this record from an old YouTube video of “Lullaby In Rhythm”, so finding the entire album without really even searching for it was exciting. The record store owners priced it extremely fair, despite their proclamation on the sticker that it was ‘rare jazz!’, and so for college budget price of $18, the record was mine. Checking online, I saw that usually sells in the $20-$50 range, but a copy of the 10″ album sold for $115 on Discogs. Mercy.